During pregnancy, it’s important to be aware of the foods you eat and their potential effects on both you and your baby. That’s why it’s essential to know about nightshades and their cautions during pregnancy. Nightshades include a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, tomatillos, pimentos and goji berries. Pregnant women should carefully consider whether or not to consume these types of vegetables since they contain a toxic glycoalkaloids that can cause health complications in some cases.
I believe that nightshades should not be consumed during pregnancy, while nursing, or while trying to conceive due to the potential health risks they can pose. I will provide you with more information regarding these risks so that you can make informed decisions about your diet.
I first learned about nightshades being inflammatory foods and causing arthritic pain back in 2007. I found a detox diet that excluded them and many other inflammatory foods. For the first time in my life, I felt amazing. I shed a bunch of weight, got rid of my fatigue and it really kicked me into focusing on my health.
During my quest for optimal health & nutrition, I also learned that nightshades were very healthy foods, many are considered superfoods. I started eating them daily with every meal when I started my plant based, gluten free, dairy free diet 17 years ago. I completely forgot about them being inflammatory because they are plants, and plants are healthy!?…or so I thought…
Over the next several years, I really focused on being as healthy as I could. I worked out 2 hours most days. I walked, cycled, jogged, swam, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, Cross-fit, and more. However, I started experiencing pain. Pain in my neck, back, hips, hands, and feet. It hurt to work out and I began to slow down. I also noticed I was gaining weight, despite my healthy diet and still active.
Fast forward a few years, I struggled with infertility and couldn’t get pregnant. We decided to do IVF and I wanted to make sure I ate as healthy as I could and had the right vitamins. I continued eating my “healthy” plant based diet and took my prenatal.
My first 2 rounds of IVF failed to get any viable eggs – nada. Before starting another round of IVF, I read a bunch of books and some recommended a paleo diet, so I started implementing more meat. I also followed all of the recommendations in the book, It Starts with the Egg, by Rebecca Fett.
After 6 months following the recommendations in the books, the 3rd round worked! We got 1 viable embryo, it fertilized, and I was able to get pregnant.
Like a lot of pregnant women, I was also miserable, sick, and tired. I didn’t leave the house without ginger candies or ginger beer to ease the nausea. I tried Unisom and B6 but hated the way it left me feeling groggy and incredibly thirsty all day. At one point I was so sick I ended up in the hospital on IV fluids and Zofran. Throughout my pregnancy I had an incredible amount of pain. I did not get any good sleep my entire pregnancy. I had headaches, and muscle spasms. Magnesium was the only thing that helped. I thought I was doing everything right, eating a lot of veggies and a mostly plant based diet, but I felt horrible. Then after my T-dap, my pain and fatigue greatly increased. My OB wasn’t much help, she blamed all my pain and fatigue on my age and called it, a “geriatric pregnancy”. 🙄
After I had my baby, the pain increased. After my baby was 6 months old and she started sleeping through the night, I still wasn’t getting restful sleep. I was still incredibly exhausted when I woke up in the morning. My doctor blamed post-partum hormones.
I decided to stop working – the stress in my life, along with the pain and exhaustion, was too much for me. My joint pain got so bad, I couldn’t open baby bottles or unbuckle a car seat. Every step was painful. I was having serious brain fog – with memory and concentration. Some days I felt achy all over, like when you have the flu. I just didn’t want to get out of bed each day, but I had a baby and a 4 year old (adopted) to take care of.
I just couldn’t take it anymore and went back to the doctor. According to my blood work, I was perfectly healthy. 😕 I certainly didn’t feel that way.
Then at 1 year post-partum, I found a clue that explained why I had been feeling so bad. I found a genetic variant in my DNA that causes low butyrylcholinesterase enzymes. This makes me more prone to consequences of cholinesterase inhibition. It specifically listed nightshades, pesticides, herbicides, and sarin gas as the source of cholinesterase inhibition. It’s also called a pseudocholinesterase deficiency, but we’ll just call it what it is, butyrylcholinesterase, coded by the BCHE gene.
A Google search presented a whole lot of new words I had never heard before. Much of what I read went over my head. Most of the research on BCHE was done on anesthesia and Alzheimer’s. It’s also involved in how the body metabolizes certain drugs.
However, this article explained things a little better at my level of understanding at the time:
In short, what this means – I have a deficiency in the enzymes needed to detox the alkaloids in nightshades, coffee/caffeine, and the really bad stuff – pesticides, herbicides, and sarin. These toxins disrupt the communication from brain to muscles. It causes the neurotransmitter acetylcholine to build up in the synapse. It can cause headaches, migraines, and muscle spasms. Acetylcholine regulates the rest and digest systems, these toxins can cause insomnia, poor sleep, anxiety, and digestive problems.
After this discovery – I was blown away. I eliminated all nightshades, including the prenatal I had been taking – it had vitamins from nightshades and potato starch (Garden of Life). After 2 weeks on a strict nightshade free diet, I finally felt like myself again.
Prior to figuring this out, there was no way I would have another baby. After figuring this out, I was confident I could do it again, but I knew I needed to be on a nightshade free diet. The only problem is, nightshades are hidden in so many things. Nightshades are not in the top 8 allergens, so they don’t have to be listed on a food labels. I often experience “nightshading” about once a month, from hidden nightshades or taking a risk at a restaurant, or dinner with friends.
On my new diet, for the first time, I was actually able to get pregnant without IVF. However, I miscarried at 8 weeks and again 10 weeks. Likely due to my aging eggs, and low progesterone – OBs do not check progesterone like a Reproductive Endocrinologist.
After my miscarriages, I was feeling pretty terrible again – a lot of inflammation. Not as bad as I was postpartum. Prior to my miscarriages, I had insomnia, headaches, and my muscles felt tense. Very similar to some of the symptoms nightshades cause me, but I hadn’t eaten any. Something was off and prior to my miscarriages I felt like I needed more magnesium, but I was talking 500 mg a day.
The prenatal I was taking at the time was nightshade free, from Seeking Health. I felt good on it for the first few months, but I wondered if it could be contributing to some of the weird symptoms I was having after my miscarriage. I had pretty heavy fatigue, dizziness, poor temperature control, and brain fog.
The prenatal has choline, according to studies on choline during pregnancy, this is supposed to be a good thing for our babies. Choline during pregnancy has been shown to increase cognitive effects in our offspring.
Choline is also needed to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. I wondered if this could be a problem for BCHE deficiency. I referred back to Anne Wright’s web-site, she mentions that with these gene variants we shouldn’t take choline supplements, but instead eat 2 eggs a day for our source of choline.
I stopped taking the prenatal with choline and all the weird symptoms went away. This time I switched to Thorne prenatal and I felt good again (they since added choline). Two eggs a day, did not cause me the same problems as the prenatal with choline.
We decided to proceed with IVF and hopefully avoid miscarriages. Prior to starting IVF, I figured out that high doses of Vitamin C in the form of pure Ascorbic Acid (AA), cut my nightshade reaction from 2 weeks down to 1-3 days. I knew I needed to be able to take high doses of AA in pregnancy, but my doctor discouraged taking more than 4,000 mg per day.
Then I discovered the group Vitamin C Therapy During Pregnancy, Birth, & Baby and the Klenner Protocol on Facebook. The Klenner Protocol was exactly what I needed. The Klenner protocol states that we can take 5,000 mg per day in the 1st trimester. 10,000 mg per day in the 2nd trimester. 15,000 mg per day in the 3rd trimester – in divided doses. This group has thousands of women who have taken these high doses and had amazing pregnancies and births. The Klenner Protocol reports healthy pregnancies, no miscarriages, little or no stretchmarks, shorter less painful labors, no hemorrhaging. Babies were born healthy with great Apgar scores. I was SOLD, sign me up!
My 2nd pregnancy was a night and day difference from my first. I was not sick and I was not in pain. No Unisom & B6, or ginger was needed. No Zofran or IVF fluids. I slept like a rock through most of my pregnancy – only struggling around 8-10 weeks. I felt good, but tired.
8 hours after my T-dap vaccine I struggled with pain and muscle spasms. I was in my 3rd trimester and noticed the spasms started when I was on my feet. I had to stay off my feet for month until the spams stopped. Epsom salt baths helped with the pain and spams, but didn’t stop it. The pain continued for 15 months, so I won’t be doing that again.
My baby was born very healthy with perfect Apgar scores. Was it because I was nightshade free, or was it because I followed the Vitamin C Klenner Protocol, or could both play a role?
I’ll never know for sure, but I believe both made a difference. I also feel that this BCHE deficiency played a role in my fertility challenges and previous miscarriages.
Nightshades & Cholinesterase Inhibitors
Nightshades have poisonous alkaloids that require the same enzymes to detox as pesticides and herbicides, which are all cholinesterase inhibitors. The more you are exposed to cholinesterase inhibitors, the lower the enzyme activity goes. This is not a good thing as low BCHE is correlated with risk of death in many different disease states.
When cholinesterase enzymes are too low, they can’t break down and balance the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. It blocks the degradation of acetylcholine in the neuromuscular synapses – allowing acetylcholine to build up and causing the muscle to stay contracted, or spasming. For me this usually results in neck, back pain and foot pain, that can be minor (ingesting something with nightshade seasonings) or much more severe and debilitating (potato starch).
Sometimes I can eat a nightshade and not feel anything, and sometimes they trigger a long list of symptoms, similar to Gulf War Syndrome. Gulf Way Syndrome is caused by exposure to Sarin gas, a cholinesterase inhibitor.
Out of all nightshades, the one that I found to be the most harmful to me is POTATO STARCH. It’s hidden in so many processed foods, including many gluten free, dairy free, and vegan foods. It’s also added to processed chicken, lunch meats, pre-shredded cheese, ice-cream, and more. It was even in my first prenatal.
The alkaloids in nightshades can vary greatly depending on when the nightshade was picked, how it’s handled, and how it’s stored. Nightshades are also in the Dirty Dozen, the produce with the highest pesticide content.
Potatoes for example, are sprayed with an herbicide, after they are harvested. The post-harvest herbicide, inhibits the potato from sprouting, so it can be stored longer. This is in addition to the 13 pesticides and herbicides the potato crops may already be sprayed.
Potatoes that have sprouted, or have green spots, should be thrown out. There are cases of children dying from eating sprouted potatoes. The high alkaloid content cannot be cooked out.
I haven’t figured out why potato starch is so severe, unless it has anything to do with the pesticide content, longer storage of the starchy potatoes, or the processing? Or maybe because it’s a starch? Or maybe all of the above?
Tomatoes that you grow organically, ripened on the vine, will likely have a lower alkaloid content than commercially sold tomatoes picked when green.
I had no idea I was poisoning myself taking my prenatal, drinking my smoothies with superfoods and protein powders that contained nightshades. Eating eggs with salsa. Eating my leftovers or Amy’s frozen vegetarian meals, or salads filled with nightshades. If I was still hungry, I went up to the cafeteria to eat a small cup of potato salad of to hold me over until dinner. I cringe when I think about what I ate while I was pregnant. It’s certainly better than eating french fries every day, but still, it was WAY too many nightshades.
My 2nd pregnancy was very different. I stuck with a strict nightshade free Paleo diet. 2 eggs every day, plain. Lunch was a nightshade free protein and greens smoothie with a protein bar. Or salmon salad I prepared myself. Dinner varied, but it was ALWAYS nightshade free. I ate a lot of Auto-Immune Paleo recipes. A few times I ate things that were seasoned with paprika, and the next day I had mild nausea. I did not suffer the pain, headaches, muscle cramps, insomnia, or irritable bladder I experienced in my first pregnancy. Plus it was SO NICE to sleep and I slept GOOD.
I did have a hard time eating protein while pregnant. Now looking through studies, eating more protein would’ve been a wise choice because it increases BCHE enzymes.
Pregnancy & Cholinesterase Enzymes
As I mentioned, there are genetic variants that cause a BCHE deficiency, but you can also have an acquired BCHE deficiency.
Acquired BCHE deficiency can be caused by liver disease, kidney disease, protein malnutrition, chronic infections, malignancy, eating a lot of nightshades, several drugs, exposure to pesticides, and herbicides, and pregnancy hormones – can all inhibit the activity of this enzyme.
Yes, butyrylcholinesterase enzymes are lower in pregnancy. Then if you have any of the genetic variants like me, or just eat a lot of nightshades, like I did in my first pregnancy, your cholinesterase enzyme activity can go too LOW.
Low BCHE enzymes cause an increase in the hunger hormone, ghrelin. This causes us to be hungry and gain more weight.
Could low BCHE cause problems with fertility? One study on IUI, found the increased inflammation caused by IUI, had negative effects on cholinesterase enzymes and decreased fertility. I did not try IUI myself, my doctor advised going straight to IVF due to my age.
When you do IVF, progesterone is required. They monitor your progesterone levels and have you do progesterone injections and/or suppositories. Progesterone helps keep the uterus relaxed and prevents spams, to retain the fetus. I would like to see studies done on women with infertility challenges and BCHE enzymes. I feel like it played a role in my fertility challenges.
I had to wonder, could these low cholinesterase enzymes cause a problem for our babies? With lowered enzymes, this lessens our ability to detox the cholinesterase inhibitors. During pregnancy, can the placenta protect the baby if the mother is ingesting foods that are cholinesterase inhibitors, such as nightshades, or foods with pesticide and herbicide residue? What about if the mother lives near a farm where pesticides and herbicides are sprayed? What if the baby has genetic variants causing a butyrylcholinesterase deficiency, combined with the exposure to cholinesterase inhibitors in the mother’s diet?
Infants & Cholinesterase Enzymes
In 2022 a new study came out regarding BCHE enzymes and SIDS. All these babies that died of SIDS were born with lower BCHE enzymes than the babies that did not die, or died from other causes. Could this be another reason why we shouldn’t be consuming nightshades and eating organic in pregnancy?
Did these babies die because they had BCHE variants, causing low butyrylcholinesterase enzymes? Or had they been exposed to cholinesterase inhibitors in utero? Or both? This is what needs to be studied.
What if a baby is born with low BCHE and the mother is nursing and ingesting nightshades, or exposed to cholinesterase inhibitors? What about formula? Personally I can’t eat anything processed – there are just too many additives made from nightshades, especially potato. Does formula have potato? I cringe when I read formula labels, because I know it’s something that I would likely react to. I had to use formula for my babies because I could only produce around 50% of what they needed.
We do know there is a much higher occurrence of SIDS in homes with smokers. Tobacco also happens to be a nightshade.
Children living in farming communities, where pesticides and herbicides are sprayed, have lower cholinesterase enzymes. Could living in a farming community put your baby at risk for SIDS?
One study on BCHE found that countries with higher consumption of nightshades (eggplant & potato), had more people with BCHE variants. Could eating nightshades in pregnancy cause the BCHE mutations?
I would have to agree with this hypothesis, just based on my own experience. I found that I have 2 BCHE variants – rs1799807 and rs1803274. My daughter, I had when I was eating nightshades, she has 2 BCHE variants. My husband does not have any BCHE variants.
My dad did not have any BCHE variants, I’m not sure if my mom had any. However, I tested her sister, my aunt, and she has 1 BCHE variant. It’s possible my mom had the same variant as my aunt, and I inherited it and a 2nd one mutated. Or maybe my mom had 2 and I inherited 2? I do know my mom ate a diet high in nightshades, including almost daily consumption of french fries. (Yet, she blamed me for making her sick her entire pregnancy.)
Maybe the pregnancy sickness we get, is because our body is having difficulty detoxing with low cholinesterase enzymes? Maybe our bodies are warning us that our diets or environments are not what our bodies need in pregnancy? Just speculation, but it seems to apply in my experience. I’m sharing because, maybe this applies to other women who’ve struggled too.
It’s well known that some women struggle with post-partum depression and the cause is currently unknown. There is a study currently going on at Yale, connecting high acetylcholine to depression and anxiety. Updates on this research has been shared through presentations from professor Marina Picciotto.
If BCHE enzymes are too low, it can’t breakdown and balance acetylcholine and it goes too high. Is it possible that post-partum depression is caused by low BCHE enzymes? Marina Picciotto has found that If there’s too much acetylcholine in our brain for a long time, it can make us focus too much on stressful stuff and make it hard to think flexibly or cope with stress. It’s like our brain gets stuck on the bad things.
Women who struggle with post-partum depression, may also struggle with insomnia, and anxiety. They are also at risk for developing major depressive disorder later on in life.
I definitely have felt this post-partum. With my first baby I had an immense amount of stress going on in my life. I wasn’t able to cope with that stress and the stress I had going on at work. I definitely struggled with some mild post-partum depression, even in my 2nd pregnancy, when I was nightshade free. Two years after I gave birth, it finally lifted, when I removed another plant toxin from my diet. Oxalates.
High Oxalates Foods
Now that I know about oxalates, and I know what my body feels like if I have oxalate poisoning and oxalate dumping. The feeling I had before my miscarriages is similar to how I feel when I have oxalate poisoning. It’s possible that my miscarriages were related to oxalate poisoning. When it happens, I feel like I need more magnesium. It’s likely because my body needed more to handle all of the oxalates. I’ve found others that experienced this as well. It’s definitely something that needs to be studied. In fact, all these plant toxins need more studies. The foods that I was eating that are high in oxalates: spinach, chard, beets, almond butter, almond flour, nuts, hummus, raspberries. Yep, more “healthy” superfoods that are toxic.
If you are trying to figure out what diet to eat for TTC, pregnancy, and post-partum, make sure to read Toxic Superfoods, by Sally Norton. Out of all the dozens of nutrition books I read prior to pregnancy – I wish I had this one.
Testing for BCHE Deficiency
If you are looking to see if you could have these BCHE variants, or low cholinesterase enzymes. Please read my next article: The Healing Blossom: How to Search Raw DNA Data Files for BCHE Variants. The article shows you how to find them using raw DNA data, as well as a simple blood test to test cholinesterase enzyme levels.
Nightshade Free Prenatals and Vitamins
I get asked a lot about nightshade free vitamins. I can’t read a label and tell if they contain nightshades. You have to reach out to the manufactures, because they aren’t always listed on the label. I encourage you reach out to your vitamin manufactures and ask if their products are nightshade free.
I found THORNE prenatal is nightshade free and had no ill side effects as long as I took it with food. They recently added choline to it, and I have not tried it to see if it’s a problem for me. I have increased my egg consumption to 3-4 a day and I feel great. Now that Throne has choline, I don’t currently have a prenatal I can recommend.
Vitamin C, I take Nutribiotic Pure Ascorbic Acid and followed the Klenner Protocol. Pure Ascorbic Acid increases PON1 enzymes that are needed to detox cholinesterase inhibitors. I happen to have 2 PON2 variants too. When I started the high doses of pure ascorbic acid, it was a noticeable difference for me. Vitamin C is also a mast cell stabilizer. Now that I’m not pregnant, I don’t take it daily. I only use it if I feel like I’m getting sick, because it keeps me from getting really sick, or if I’m drinking alcohol. Or I take it when I’m having mast cell issues. The reason why I’m no longer taking it every day is because of oxalates.
I also found Magnesium to be beneficial. Magnesium helps to balance acetylcholine, which can go too high when exposed to cholinesterase inhibitors. I found Epsom salt baths to work the best for this and helped me a lot during my pregnancy. Magnesium citrate is also needed to help the body clear oxalates and prevent oxalate crystallization in the body.
Glutathione is another supplement I found beneficial. It’s needed for the detoxification process. Seeking Health is the brand I’ve been using. Some people recommend NAC for this purpose, but NAC did nothing for me. Genes play a role in this too and found going straight to glutathione works best for me.
I’m not a doctor and you should always check with your doctor about diet & vitamins during pregnancy, nursing, or while trying to conceive.
If you would like to learn more about nightshades and cholinesterase inhibitors. I highly recommend reading these web-sites:
- Anne Wright – Cholinesterase Inhibitors
- Weston Price Nightshades
- The No Nightshade Kitchen
- We also have a Facebook group.
- A-Typical BCHE
- Cholinesterase Inhibitor Sensitivity Genes
- Klenner Protocol
- Natural inhibitors of cholinesterases: implications for adverse drug reactions.
- Butyrylcholinesterase: A Multifaceted Pharmacological Target and Tool
- Long-Chain Acylcholines Link Butyrylcholinesterase to Regulation of Non-neuronal Cholinergic Signaling
- Poison Control – Potatoes
- Gulf War Syndrome
- Pseudocholinesterase Deficiency
- Butyrylcholinesterase Activity & Preeclampsia
- Plasma Cholinesterase Changes During Pregnancy
- Butyrylcholinesterase Biomarker in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- Cholinesterase Enzyme Activities in Children Living in Agriculture Communities.
- Secondhand Smoke & SIDS